“I can cry like Roger, it’s just a shame I can’t play like him.”
It was an off-the-cuff remark, standing at the microphone on Rod Laver Arena, minutes after he had seen his Grand Slam title hopes end in ruins but it was the moment Andy Murray may have revealed more of himself to his public than he ever had before. As it had the year before when Federer broke down in floods of tears after losing to Rafael Nadal in the 2009 final here at the Australian Open, Murray’s tearful reaction to defeat revealed just how much emotional, as well as physical, energy goes into the effort of trying to win a major championship in this sport which is so singular and so lonely out there in the heat of battle.
There is nowhere to hide during play and, once the battle is over, nowhere to run to. Victor and vanquished have to wait on court for 10 minutes before being asked to address a 15,000-member crowd and a worldwide television audience. No wonder they cry.
Some people who observe this game from a afar can be very cynical and very dismissive about the what it takes to achieve this level of sporting skill but, hopefully, this beautifully played final, which exhibited so many of the game’s finer qualities, will have shown just how much it means to the world’s best players.
They make pots of money but anyone who believes winning more of it is their motivation is way off the mark. It is the achievement they are after. They are competitors and all competitors think about is winning. “I’ve been wanting to win one since I was 16, or 17, and playing in junior Grand Slams,” Murray said. “I’ve worked really, really hard to do it and to give myself the opportunity. When it comes, maybe because of the two losses, it will be even better.”
Even half an hour after the match when defeat still tasted bitter, Murray was keeping his perspective.
“I spoke to my Mum just now," he said. "You know to have the opportunity to play in these tournaments, in these matches, is pretty incredible in the grand scheme of things. I’m not going to be too disappointed. I’ve got a long career ahead of me and I hope I will have more opportunities to win. But, if I don’t, there’s a lot more important things to worry about than tennis.”
The match itself was decided by the sustained brilliance of the champion, but that is not to say Murray did not have his chances. Serves were swapped at the start of the first set and then Murray had three break point chances at 2-2. When he was asked which point he would like to have back to take a second crack at, he nominated one those points.
“He mishit a backhand. Wasn’t really expecting it," Murray said. "I hit a topspin forehand but probably should have gone for a bigger forehand at that stage.”
Whether Murray should go for more big shots instead of engaging his opponents in long rallies in an attempt to outmaneuver them has long been a conversation point amongst commentators, and the subject was talking point No. 1 again here.
Murray agreed that he was too passive during what he felt was a poor second set but when asked about the greater aggression he had shown against Nadal in the quarter final, he replied, “It’s a different match, you know, against Roger. With Rafa he can hit the ball short. He plays a lot of topspin. Roger hits the ball a lot flatter. It comes onto you a lot quicker, so it’s harder to go for huge shots against him. And on important points, he can come up with big first serves. Rafa’s serve is very good but you always have opportunities when he’s serving.” Murray was right about Federer’s serve. His first service percentage was nothing special — 66 percent — but it is his uncanny ability to come up with an ace, of which he served 11 here, or a big first serve on points that matter which has been such a factor in him winning so many important matches.
It is impossible to know what would have happened had Murray seized any of the five set points he had in a truly thrilling third-set tiebreak. Before Federer closed it out 13-11, Murray had led 6-4, 8-7, 9-8 and 11-10. The most incredible point came on Federer’s first match point at 10-9 to the Swiss when he came up with a great drop shot which Murray, starting from behind his baseline, somehow reached after one of those Olympian sprints and hit it down the line. Federer had it covered on his forehand volley but let it go.
“I couldn’t believe it when it fell in,” Federer said. “I had visions of the cup being grabbed from my hands.”
Murray’s biggest error was in the 12th game when he had a routine forehand to hit down the line having drawn Federer wide. But he put it straight into the net. Against anyone else, he would probably have made it. But Federer is not anyone else and this was just the second stage in the education of a budding Grand Slam champion. Murray will be better next time. And, if that isn’t good enough, the time after that. Maybe there will be more tears and, if there are, Roger will understand.
“In a way, its nice to see,” he said. “I like guys who care for the game.”